'I'm interested in saving lives, and this helps'

Lovina Omeire, 32, is doing an MSc in toxicology at the University of East London.

So what is toxicology?

It's studying the adverse effects chemicals have on people. These can be caused by drugs, or even food. As pharmacists, we say that all drugs can be poisons – and the same applies to food – but the essence of toxicology is determining the toxic effect of these drugs on the system.

Why did you choose this course?

I used to study pharmacy, and it's been my dream to work for a pharmaceutical company as a quality control analyst. I'd be checking the products, testing them for poisons and making sure they are set at the right dosage. It's the only way to tell if the drug is fit for human consumption.

How is the course taught?

It's a mixture of lectures, seminars and practical work. MSc students have two days a week with a morning lecture covering some new theory, followed by an afternoon in the laboratories trying out the practical aspects of what we've just been taught.

What do you like best about the course?

I'm interested in saving lives, and it allows me to get into that process. It makes me sad and angry to hear of people suffering just because they've eaten the wrong food or taken the wrong dose of a drug.

And what is the most difficult thing about it?

The hardest thing is writing up what you do in the lab. My reports often don't cover the aspects my lecturers want, which can lead to annoyingly low scores. I also find it difficult to work in the lab alone – it's scary being surrounded by so many powerful chemicals!

Is there a project?

Yes. The lecturers suggest project topics for us to choose from, depending on our area of interest. Mine will be a quality assurance assessment of a certain Chinese herbal drug, so I'll be analysing it using lab procedures I've learnt about.

Will it set you up well for the future?

Yes. Learning to work independently in the labs here has helped me a lot: I used to prefer working in groups, but by the time I leave I'll be confident enough to carry out my own research. It has enabled me to work with some very complex equipment, such as spectroscopes and chromatographs, which I couldn't do before. And having an MSc should help me to persuade a pharmaceutical company to employ me.

How much does it cost?

For home students, the MSc costs £4,560.

What kind of person should do the course?

It's not just for those with a pharmaceutical background; any serious-minded chemist, microbiologist or biochemist would find it interesting. There's a medical doctor in my year, so it attracts all sorts of people.